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Atlas of Lebanon

Part 2 - Population and migration

International Migration and the Lebanese Diaspora

Éric Verdeil et Bruno Dewailly

Texte intégral

1There is no reliable source on the number of Lebanese living outside the country, a phenomenon which is hard to grasp as it encompasses various situations: Lebanese citizens permanently residing abroad, descendants of Lebanese families who do not have the citizenship but maintain links with the country, migrants coming back for long periods of time every year, etc. Estimates vary widely but a figure of 3 to 4 million Lebanese abroad is often cited.

A numerous group disseminated across the world

2Historians distinguish several waves of migration over the last 150 years. A first one reached its climax at the end of the 19th century. The consequences of the severe famine caused by the Ottoman blockade during the First World War and the establishment of the French Mandate provoked a second rise in the number of people leaving the country. During the first half of the 20th century, the diaspora was mainly concentrated in two regions: North America, especially the United States, and South America, where Brazil and Argentina were the main settlement countries. Egypt was a secondary destination, as many Christians found a safe haven there after the 1860 massacres.

3The Civil War resulted in a third wave of migration, quite different from the earlier ones. Contrary to South American countries, which faced economic issues, North America remained attractive but Canada became the top destination. Australia also emerged as a major destination. However, the biggest novelty lied in the growing number of Lebanese emigrating in order to work in the Gulf countries, mostly in managerial and technical positions. The diaspora also extended its reach to Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Europe and Africa. Nowadays, these four regions host more than 70% of the Lebanese citizens living abroad.

Figure II-6: Immigration destinations of the Lebanese emigrants (1975-2007)

Figure II-6: Immigration destinations of the Lebanese emigrants (1975-2007)

Emigration: an obligation, an opportunity?

4Emigration is sometimes perceived as a forced decision and a stopgap solution in a dysfunctional Lebanese economy, but it also stands out as an opportunity and a source of income for many households. The number of graduates having studied overseas hints at the individual strategies implemented to improve one’s prospects: up until the beginning of the 2000s, about 39% of the engineers and 60% of the physicians obtained their degrees abroad. A survey focused on young Lebanese migrants in the OECD countries, analyzed by Françoise De Bel-Air, reveals their high level of education: in 2011, 44% of them were highly educated to 23% of the young adults living in Lebanon. However, this proportion varies from one destination to another. Australia, Germany and Sweden have received comparatively less educated individuals as they have welcomed poorer migrants from South Lebanon and Palestinian refugees migrating through humanitarian channels.

Figure II-7: Lebanese graduates abroad

Figure II-7: Lebanese graduates abroad

5On a different scale, the existence of the diaspora also constitutes an economic, political and social issue for various Lebanese actors. Controlling the expatriate communities, as much as is possible, is a challenge that warrants an original international deployment. Among others, the Lebanese State sees the diaspora as a resource and a potential source of investments in Lebanon. Compared to the small size of the country, the Lebanese diplomatic network is remarkably widespread and marked by the importance of the diaspora, noticeable in the existence of numerous honorary consulates. This responsibility is commonly handled by binational Lebanese citizens in their country of settlement, where they represent Lebanon’s interests and perform some administrative tasks, at a very low cost for the State. In return, the consuls gain influence over their communities. The map of the diplomatic network appears as the result of two combined rationales: one related to geopolitical issues and the other a partial reflection of the migration history of the country.

Figure II-8: The Lebanese diplomatic network at the beginning of the 2000s

Figure II-8: The Lebanese diplomatic network at the beginning of the 2000s

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure II-6: Immigration destinations of the Lebanese emigrants (1975-2007)
Fichier image/png, 35k
Titre Figure II-7: Lebanese graduates abroad
Fichier image/png, 34k
Titre Figure II-8: The Lebanese diplomatic network at the beginning of the 2000s
Fichier image/png, 117k

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